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The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder    by Rebecca Wells order for
Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder
by Rebecca Wells
Order:  USA  Can
Harper, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Calla Lily Ponder grew up in La Luna, Louisiana, a small town not too far from New Orleans. Her parents were deeply in love with each other and the family of two boys and a girl was a close-knit, loving one, with an especially strong bond between Calla and her mother. The first third of the book is devoted to Calla's idyllic childhood among her loving family and her close friends, Renée, Sukey, and Tucker, as well as neighbors and other people in the town. Most of these people are depicted as good, wholesome, sensible sorts who go to church on Sunday and love to dance and drink a little at the parties thrown by Calla's parents at their dance studio, the Swing 'N Sway. Calla refers to her mother as M'Dear, short for Mother Dear, and in addition to helping with the dance studio, M'Dear also has a small beauty salon which she operates on her side porch, where she teaches Calla everything she knows about hair care and beauty during her growing-up years.

When Calla is sixteen, her life changes drastically when her mother contracts breast cancer. After M'Dear dies, Calla becomes determined to follow in her mother's footsteps and become a beautician, using the healing hands that she inherited from M'Dear. Her friend Tucker tries to talk her into attending college, since they are both good students who are college material, but she has a dream, and college doesn't play a part in that dream.

I didn't like the flowery prose and the constant description of the clothes being worn by seemingly every character in this book, not only when they're introduced, but every time they appear. Hairdos are also continually mentioned and detailed, and the highest aspirations of most of the girls in this book seem to be getting happily married to the man of their dreams and having his babies. Calla Lily does pursue her dream and has a career, but there's almost a lack of respect for that career in the way she's depicted. That one of her friends gets a college education and pursues a career as a rehabilitation counselor is thrown out almost as an afterthought. The diversity provided by a gay couple, a strong woman who is possibly gay, and a few Black people is written about in the same goody two-shoes manner as the rest of the book, with lots of description of their clothes and good, faithful hearts.

I confess that I didn't love Rebecca Wells' first wildly successful bestselling novel, The Divine Secrets of the Ya-ya Sisterhood as most other women in America seemed to, but the main character in that book was much more believable and sensible than Calla Lily Ponder. Divine Secrets had interesting plots, whereas this one seems to just walk along slowly from one event in Calla's life to the next, with little to catch the interest of the reader. When bad things happen to Calla, she cries enough to take care of herself, and our sympathy is therefore reduced. When good things happen, they're just a little too sweet to believe. I wish I could have liked her and her story more, and I really tried, but in the end I was just glad to be finished.

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